The link between mental illness and physical pain

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The link between mental and physical health is one that has confounded medical professionals for thousands of years, and something that we have started to look at in greater detail over the past few decades. In short, we know that mental and physical health are linked, but this can occur in different ways and for different reasons. In this blog, we’re going to look at some of the main ways mental and physical health are linked.


Somatoform Disorder

Somatoform Disorder is an umbrella term that refers to any mental illness that causes a physical symptom. Hyperventilation is one of the easiest examples of a somatoform disorder to give. A person who becomes panicked and starts hyperventilating is not doing so for any physical reason, but because their mind has panicked and caused their body to react. But somatoform disorder can cause a variety of different problems, from gastro-intestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction. Physical pain is one of the most commonly reported symptoms, and often affects people living with depression or anxiety.

It is not yet known exactly why somatoform disorders cause physical problems, but it could be the mind’s way of trying to seek help. What we do know is that the physical symptoms can go away with therapy, so if you have been experiencing pain but unable to figure out why, don’t rule out mental health as a cause.

Chemical Causes

We often see the mind and the body as two totally separate entities, but one cannot function without the other. Our minds are responsible for sending signals and releasing chemicals to our bodies, so if there is a problem in the mind, there is a good possibility it will affect the body in one way or another.

Some of the chemicals that the mind releases when we exercise are dopamine, aka the happy hormone, norepinephrine, which deals with stress, and serotonin, which helps regulate our mood. When people don’t exercise, the mind doesn’t release as many hormones and endorphins, which not only makes us less happy, but also makes our pain feel worse. There are also 50 nutrients the body needs to consume to function at its best, all of which play a role in supporting our mental and physical health on a chemical level. To learn more about this, click here.

Social Causes

As we touched on above, exercise is necessary to release certain mood and pain managing chemicals into the body. A major risk here is that mental or physical pain could lead to a cyclical pattern. A person who is depressed will not go out as often, which means that their physical health will go down. This means they become even more depressed at their declining health, and are even less likely to go out. Over time, they become less able-bodied, more socially withdrawn, and more depressed.

Some things like stiffer knees, staying in more often, and not seeing your friends as much can be hard to notice, but they all add up. You might see deteriorating physical ability as a reason to stay home and get rest, but really it is a sign that you should keep moving. Even just getting out into the sunlight for a few minutes a day can give you a supply of Vitamin D, which is health for both your bones and your mind.

We may still have a lot to learn before we fully understand the links between mental and physical health, but based on what we’ve found already, we know the two are interlinked in some very important ways. To learn more about this, visit our blog on that topic.

Julie Farrar